Dawn on a Distant Shore Page 153

The old lady shook herself out of her daydream. "I'm no' sae auld that I canna tell a tale, Gelleys. And though I dinna like tae admit it, Leddy Carryck was no' the mither she should ha' been."

She folded her hands in her lap. "Now, as young as the baith o' ye are, ye'll ken the truth o' it when I say this: no' every woman makes a mither. Most can bring a bairn intae the world, but wi' some it gaes nae further. And sae it was with Leddy Carryck. The sweetest and maist generous leddy wi' the servants and the tenants and wi' any puir soul wha micht come tae the door wi' an empty kyte--but she couldna take her own wean in her lap tae noozle her, or sing tae her, or tae blether and laugh as aa women do wi' their bairns. And they baith suffered for it."

"It was losin' the lads, aa three," said Gelleys. "Every time they buried a son, the guid leddy put a piece o' hersel' in the grave wi' him. And there was naucht left ower for wee Isabel."

Granny pushed out a great sigh. "And sae Leddy Carryck was glad tae gie the raisin' o' her tae Jean."

"Aye, and Jean had a way wi' the lassie," said Gelleys. "Isabel was willfu', but for Jean she'd do anythin'. And aa was weel until--"

"Gelleys Smaill," interrupted Granny, frowning. "Wha's got the tellin' o' this tale?"

The old washerwoman grimaced. "Then get on wi' it, Leezie. Ye're gettin' verra langsome in yer auld age."

Granny sniffed. "As I was sayin'. Aa was weel until Ian Hope took note o' Jean one summer morn, and she o' him." The small head in its white cap turned toward Jennet, and when she smiled this time a dimple made itself clear on a deeply lined cheek. "One day, hen, ye'll ken what it is tae ha' a barrie young man look at ye the way Ian Hope looked at yer mither. As if the mune hung in the sky just tae shine on her face."

"Yer worse than Rab Burns wi' yer poetry," said Gelleys impatiently. "Can ye no' say it simple? Ian Hope was the richt guidman for Jean, and she the richt guidwife for Ian, and aa could see the truth o' it."

"Ye say it as ye like, and sae will I," said Granny peacefully. "It was a guid match, that's aye true. Ma Roddy was muny years in his grave, but it wad ha' pleased him tae see his lass married tae the son o' Alasdair Hope, just as it pleased the laird and the leddy and me. Aa were seifu' but Isabel.

"The day o' the wedding she went intae the fairy wood and wadna come oot, no' when her faither spake sharp words, no' when her mither spake soft ones. And sae Jean and Ian were joined wi'oot Isabel's blessing or fellowship, and sae far as she was concerned, there had nivver been a wedding, and Ian Hope was naucht but a nuisance tae be ignored. It pained Jean at first tae see the lass sae unhappy, and wi' time it made her mad, and then, why then, Simon came alang--"

"My brither," supplied Jennet.

"When Jennet's brither Simon was born ... noo, ye can weel imagine that Isabel was jealous, and I suppose the truth o' it was she had cause. For a guid while Jean had nae time for the lass at aa--that was the year ma ees started tae fail, ye ken, and between takin' ower for me and caring for Simon she was runnin' aa the day lang.

"And in her anger and pyne Isabel marched aff tae her mither and announced that a young leddy o' fifteen doesna need a nurse, and perhaps Carryckcastle could do wi'oot Jean Hope aategither. But the leddy wad ha' nane o' that, and sae it was that Jean came tae me as underhoosekeeper, just when I needed her most. It was a hard year," she said with a sigh.

"A dark year, ava," said Gelleys.

Granny Laidlaw's hands were resting in her lap, fingers twitching slightly. The room had gone silent but for the sound of the dog's snuffled breathing, the whisper of the floor rushes, and the crisp snap of beans as Gelleys continued her way through the great bowl in her lap. This time she did not rush her friend's story, but she watched her closely, as a mother might watch a frail child.

Granny cleared her throat and began again.

"That Janwar Lady Carryck took a fever and slipped awa', so sudden that there was nae time tae--" She paused and closed her eyes. "Tae take leave o' her. And that was the start o' the sorrows."

"In the village ten died o' the same weid," said Gelleys. "And the rains came that spring and wadna stop. And meece got intae the corn, and--"

"And the Campbells," prompted Jennet.

"Aye, the Campbells." Granny's voice rasped with anger or sorrow, Hannah could not tell which. "Every spring the laird sends his men oot tae see that the tenants are gettin' on, and that spring he did the same. Ian Hope and his brither Magnus went west, but Ian nivver came hame again. I had ma guidman for thirty year, but Jean had Ian for less than three, and the losin' o' him stole her youth awa'."

Hannah had lost her own mother when she was very young; she had seen death come suddenly to Elizabeth's brother Julian and more slowly to her own great-grandfather, all in the last year. She knew sorrow and she understood how loss cut deep and left traces that would never fade, but she knew too that something was not right about the story being pieced together for her. She thought suddenly of Curiosity, who had asked Jennet so many questions in the garden. And here was a question she had not thought to ask:

How was it Jennet's father had died three years before she was born?

Jennet was watching her closely, and the two old women listened and watched, too, willing to let this part of the story be told by someone else.

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